Psychosis is more common than you think—even in childrenby Lucy Maddox / August 22, 2012 / Leave a comment
In tests, 40 per cent of adults and over half of children report “unusual” perceptions or ideas
When I first met Helen she didn’t want to talk to me, or anyone else. She stayed in her room in the ward, sitting alone with her hood up, emerging only for mealtimes. Only after several attempts did she agree to come out for a short walk in the hospital grounds. It took many more walks before she began to talk about her experiences.
Helen was being listened to, continually, by the judges from a TV talent show. Anything she said could be heard by all of them. Sometimes they responded to what they heard by talking to her through the television. No one else could tell they were speaking directly to her, a 13-year-old girl from Edgware, but she knew. It made her feel good. It made her feel special. It also got in the way of things she was supposed to be doing, like school. Helen hadn’t been to school in nearly a year.
Psychosis is an umbrella term for loss of contact from reality. It includes unusual thoughts, such as delusions or paranoia, and unusual sensory experiences, like seeing, hearing or feeling things that others cannot. Schizophrenia refers to the more chronic presence of these features, but they can also form part of mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder. Psychosis is diagnosed when it interrupts somebody’s life to the extent that they, or those around them, are significantly distressed. It is possible to have one psychotic episode and never have another. It is also possible to experience psychotic-like experiences without distress or impact on everyday functioning. In fact, psychotic-like experiences are much more common in the general population than most people think. Approximately 40 per cent of adults and over half of children in community-based research samples report “unusual” perceptions or ideas when asked. This spectrum of experience is having an increasing impact on the way mental health professionals think about psychosis. Views about psychosis are changing.
Ideas about how to treat psychosis have already changed radically over the years. Although schizophrenia was named in the early 1900s, symptoms were described long before. Historically, treatments were often motivated by fear and lack of understanding. Initial practices of social exclusion and exorcism gave way to Victorian asylums and invasive brain operations.…